In a study published in today’s New Zealand Medical Journal, a long-term research project targeting Pacific Island children in Auckland has revealed shocking obesity levels.
Of 800 participants, 50% of children by the age of ten were found to be obese, with another 30% found to be overweight. These high percentages are thought to be double those found in the latest national study for Pacific children aged 2-14.
A statistical disparity between islands was noted by one of the authors of the journal article, Professor Elaine Rush who said “Pacific people in the South Island tend to have less obesity than the North Island.”
The children involved in the study had their diets surveyed by researchers who took down details about what children ate at the age of four and six. Whilst serving size was not investigated, the preceding four weeks before each survey, was taken into consideration.
Of the major food groups discovered, white bread was the most common food given to children.
The 6-year-olds ate white bread on average 1.2 times a day, followed by cereal once a day and rice every two days. The high levels of carbohydrates consumed by children between the ages of 4 and 10 was a notable factor in the growing statistics.
In terms of food groups, cereals and breads were the standout making up 26% of the diet for 6-year-olds, compared to 15% for vegetables.
“Based on a high prevalence… of overweight (including the obese) and a rapid growth among this cohort,” the researchers revealed, “we hypothesised an energy-dense food pattern consistent with a high frequency of refined carbohydrates, fats and meats. Higher-energy refined carbohydrates constituted around a quarter of all food in the food frequency questionnaire, where cereals and breads contributed to a quarter of all daily food.”
Professor Rush is appealing to parents and families to change their portion sizes and follow a guideline of a plate filled with half vegetables, a quarter good-quality carbohydrates and a quarter lean protein.
“It’s more healthy – in little steps. These small changes to a whole population make a big difference.”